Marcher by Chris Beckett
I didn’t know that this was set in Bristol before I bought it and so was pleasantly surprised to be in a very familiar location. Beckett has written an intelligent SF novel where Charles Bowen, our protagonist, is an immigration officer. However the immigrants he’s concerned with are “shifters” who travel the timelines/alternative realities using a drug called <i>Slip</i>. In the world of Marcher the percentage of the population who are unemployed (“Dreggies”) live in “inclusion zones” separated from productive members of society. The shifter problem seems to be getting worse and when Bowen is called to an inclusion estate in Bristol to investigate a group of shifters who, as a group, have realised that they can get away with whatever they want and, using slip, get away scott free. As the cult, based loosely on Norse myth (Dunner = Thor, Wot = Odin etc.), get ever more bold in their lawbreaking the shifter problem gets more and more attention. Beckett uses the premise of the novel to explore the themes of boundaries and identity and in our protagonist we see a very conflicted character obsessed with mirrors. The plot hurtles along to a bit of a rushed, and slightly clumsy denouement but you get the impression that Beckett was more interested in the inner lives of his characters than the plot and there is a coda at the end. The edition I read was littered with grammatical errors and words that were spelt correctly but out of place (Breath instead of Breathe for example) and read more like a pre-edited draft than a completed book, maybe the publisher didn’t do much more than run it through a spell checker? It didn’t spoil the book totally for me but be warned.
Overall – intelligent alternative worlds thriller
currently reading The Faber book of Reportage
Marcher raises some interesting questions, if you could travel to an alternative dimension, with a significant other or even others, would you? It's very tempting for people who have messed up in one way or another to walk away from their lives - you hear stories of men who walk out on their families and set up another. If you had a guaranteed escape route where you knew you would not be punished for any wrongdoing, although you'd have to leave the life you know behind, what would you do?